Episode 29: Making Use of Your Time Data

As you keep track of all the time you spend in your work, everything from the work itself, to your administration time, financials, and marketing you’ll be building a valuable resource. Drawing upon this data can have all sorts of benefits for your business.
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Are you ready to take the struggle out of finding new clients?

As you keep track of all the time you spend in your work, everything from the work itself, to your administration time, financials, and marketing you’ll be building a valuable resource. Drawing upon this data can have all sorts of benefits for your business. But if you haven’t been keeping track, there is no substitute for this crucial resource, and no shortcut to establishing it.

If you haven’t been tracking all your time, well, there’s no better time than the present to start. And in order to encourage you to invest that little extra effort each day, to keep track of your minutes, let me share some of the practical ways drawing on this resource will benefit your practice.

The biggest way your time data helps is in more accurately estimating future work. When it comes time to write that proposal, or get back to a client with an estimate for their project, our subjective sense of how much time it will take is usually faulty. We regularly underestimate the amount of time it really takes to complete our assignments. That’s because we focused too much on the time related to our core creative process, forgetting about many smaller time expenditures, in and around our process, that are also needed to complete a project.

What’s more, as I mentioned in episode 27, we often overlook how much communication time goes into our work before we can start sketching ideas, or brainstorming solutions.

And so having complete, and accurate time records, and referring to them when we’re working up estimates, will keep us honest as we provide realistic numbers to our clients.

We need to be kept honest at this critical starting point—since these numbers will likely define whether we make a profit on our work, or drown in our own failure to estimate properly.

Another reason we can become overly optimistic and unrealistic about estimates, is that we get so captivated by an attractive creative opportunity that we are willing to fudge on the time costs involved in pursuing it.

Lastly, we can become unrealistic about our estimates simply because we’re desperate for work to fill a cash flow deficit.

Since we’re so prone to compromise on price, and faulty in our memories of all that goes into our process, we need an objective, truthful record to guide us in setting our prices.

In addition to keeping us honest, there’s another huge benefit to having and using your time data. Namely, that it gives us confidence as we deliver our estimates and quotes. When you’ve based your estimates on firm data you can confidently hold to your pricing and explain, with some detail, why a certain scope of work will cost what it does. And when you’re basing your rates and fees on solid data, you’ll be able to hold firm when your clients push back on price.

And here’s a helpful tip. When a client asks you to give them an estimate on a project, never give them a number right away. Instead tell them you need to go back and review your time data to evaluate what the project will cost. And then get back to them a day or so later. By simply delaying the delivery of the price, while referencing your time data as the reason, your clients will be much less inclined to challenge your prices or ask you to compromise.

Having robust, accurate, and complete time records is so helpful for running your creative practice professionally, and profitably. There really is no replacing this treasure trove of time data. While it can be annoying to keep on a daily basis, over the years, you’ll be glad you did.

Until next week: don’t let the business of creativity overwhelm your creative business.